STRETCHING - SOME ESSENTIAL TIPS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW
Stretching is one of the most important tools in our arsenal of health strategies for preventing injuries and maintaining optimal fitness. Chiropractic care combined with stretching is a brilliant marriage, and a uniquely winning combination ... Both are essential for maintaining flexibility, one directed at the joints, the other directed at the muscles, each playing its role in helping to prevent stiffness, tension, pain, and injuries. With regard to chiropractic care I always try to explain...
"My job as a chiropractic doctor is to 'unlock' the spine, so that daily stretching and yoga postures can heal the spine."
This is because the re-introduction of movement into problem joints and muscles stimulates the body to repair itself, restore circulation, and ultimately heal. Yoga or stretching by itself may be enough for the rare individual with a perfect spine to maintain health, but for the 80% of the rest of us, chiropractic care is necessary to remove inflammation and blockages to unlock the full potential of spinal movement, restoring the full function and participation of all necessary joints when later doing stretching. Alone, many people – and even yoga instructors -- find yoga and stretching insufficient or even damaging if done without first getting the spinal joints working again through chiropractic therapy.
Let me give you an example... If you had a door which was stuck and not moving -- say due to some rusty hinges -- would the most effective approach to get the door working again be to push on the edge of the door until you got some movement? This might get some results, but in the process it could loosen the screws holding the door hinges into the wood of the door and the door frame, causing damage. Wouldn't it be more prudent to first oil the rusty hinges, so that the door would regain its normal range of motion naturally? This same holds true for the joints of the spine, some of which are immobile due to degenerative changes over the years. It is much wiser to make sure the joints between the vertebrae are first moving properly, and nerve irritation and inflammation is reduced, before doing stretches that place undue strain on muscles and ligaments which could be injured in the process.
Ideally, muscles should be stretched every day, especially before and after exercising. When muscles are not stretched on a regular basis they become tighter, shorter, stiffer, and limit our range of motion. If stretching is not used to offset these decreases in flexibility, then the changes can become permanent and further muscle and joint problems will result. It is also a good idea to do some light stretching during and after prolonged periods of inactivity, including sitting, sleeping, or long distances in a car or plane.
Believe it or not, stretching can also increase muscle strength. By lengthening a muscle, much like stretching a rubber band, each of the muscle fibers have a potentially greater distance over which a contraction can take place, and more strength can be generated. Stretching is therefore also known as “preloading” a muscle. And this will enhance your sports performance.
Unfortunately, most people rarely stretch and only realize the importance of stretching after they develop muscle problems. Frequent stretching alone can prevent many aches and pains, and virtually every muscle problem involving pain or imbalance is impacted in some way by our existing level of flexibility.
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The most common method of stretching involves carefully moving very slowly inch by inch into a progressive lengthening of a muscle, without any form of bouncing. You should move slow enough to “sneak-up” on a muscle, so it doesn’t try to fight against you. Such a stretch should be done for at least 30 to 60 seconds, if you want a lasting effect. The biggest mistake most people make is they stretch a muscle for too little time, resulting in no permanent length change. If you have tight muscles, you should stretch those muscles at least 2 or 3 times per day, while other muscles should still be stretched at least once a day.
If you exercise, by far the most important time to perform static stretching is after your activity. This is the time when your muscles are tightest and if they are not stretched, they will remain in a shortened position. Over time this results in increased soreness and recovery time after exercise, decreased flexibility, and muscle imbalances. It is also important to note that the stronger you are, the tighter your muscles can get and the more they need to be stretched.
It is a good idea to perform stretches after your muscles are warmed up, because they will be more pliable and you can stretch them further. So if you do some stretches in the morning, its best to do them after you’ve been up and moving for a while, or after showering. You should also make minor changes in your body position to target the parts of your muscle that are tightest, as this will improve the effectiveness of all stretches.
Stretching should make your muscles feel better, and if pain persists after you’ve stretched, it could indicate you may have not targeted the appropriate muscle or region within the muscle to stretch, or you may have coexisting joint or nerve inflammation which your chiropractor can address.
If you are not in pain, well you have probably heard the expression that an ‘ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’, and that certainly applies to stretching. But for people who have lived with pain for some time, stretching is an essential part of a rehabilitation program for restoring proper balance, stability, and strength, while helping to return you to a lifestyle which is fully active and pain free.